Death by Homicide and the American Security Guard

by Richard Petraitis C.P.P.
March 2003

On September 11th, 2001, two hijacked passenger airliners, piloted by religious fanatics, slammed into the World Trade Center. Some 2,800 people were killed in the resulting collapse of the WTC Buildings. Dozens of firefighters, police officers, and rescue personnel perished, buried by falling debris, as they attempted to evacuate occupants of the stricken Towers. As the horrifying drama unfolded, the nation's gaze was centered on the heroism of the New York City Fire Department and the Police Department. Sixty-four police officers were killed in the terrorist attack. (1.) However, little press attention was given to the private security professionals, both managers and guards, who died at their posts - thirty-three in number - on that fateful day. (2.) They became mere statistics added to a growing death toll of security officers and supervisors, killed yearly in the line of duty. Currently, security guards (the term used for all security officers by the federal agencies that gather work related statistics in the U.S.) are employed in one of the nation's most hazardous occupations, so ranked due to the high incidence of job related homicide. Historically, one of the highest rates for occupational homicide was held by our nation's police officers. Statistically, security guards have now gained the dubious honor of the most dangerous profession in the United States (3.) The rate of workplace homicide for security officers has risen to approximately fifty guards killed annually. (In some years, the number of slain security officers is even higher.) Unarmed, often without sufficient protective equipment and without defensive training provided by their employers; private security officers patrol one of the most dangerous beats in the United States - the American workplace. With work site murders growing to an annual average of 1,000 deaths, security managers are faced with some grim and disconcerting facts about the security workers they supervise day to day. As a security professional, I can attest to the fact these figures on workplace murder aren't widely disseminated in our professional literature. Thankfully, databases on occupational homicide statistics are now available for ready access, via the Internet, to all security professionals, thanks to the hard work of statisticians started in the early 1980s, by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.)

According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), from 1980 to 1989, nearly 7600 members of the labor force were murdered at the workplace (4.) During this time period, workplace violence became the third leading cause of death for American laborers. In 75 % of workplace homicides, firearms were used by the perpetrators, the majority were outsiders committing armed robberies. These figures help debunk the myth of the disgruntled worker, generally classified as a white male, as the major antagonist for workplace loss of life. (5.) Within those same ten years, 520 public police officers and detectives were killed in the line of duty - all victims of violence. The occupational homicide statistics for 1980 to 1989 revealed that 253 security guards were also murdered in the line of duty. (6.) These private security workers often executed many of the same duties as police officers, albeit on a lesser scale. Daily, security professionals face the same dangers as law enforcement officers and they are often the first on the scene when criminal subjects are still in the immediate area. Incidents of violence could only have increased for private security guards, as the number of Americans entering the profession increased in the coming years. In 1990, private security workers held some 810,000 jobs across fifty states. Nearly fifty percent of that occupational number consisted of contract security officers. (7.)

From 1990 to 1992, 115 security guards were killed in the line of duty, victims of
work related violence. These fallen security officers represented nearly 5.5 % of the nation's occupational homicide total for those three years. (8.) However, during the same time span only 86 public police officers and detectives were killed by criminals! (9.) In 1993, 54 security guards and officers were murdered in the line of duty compared to a law enforcement homicide rate of 68 public police officers and detectives. (10.) It was but a brief reprieve in the criminal violence directed against security guards. During the 1990s, the murder of security professionals would continue to plague the U.S. labor force. The great majority of security professionals work to protect lives and assets, often without firearms, physical control tools, or any self defense training. The odds are always tilted in favor of the felonious criminal offender should his work be interrupted by an unarmed, untrained, security officer conducting rounds. A low industry wage has contributed to a high employee turnover rate for security guards and for private security employees; it has created an even greater exposure to workplace violence when new and inexperienced security workers are in the field.

From 1991 to 1995, a workplace violence study, conducted by the State of Oregon's Department of Business and Commerce, found police and security officers were the second most frequently injured group of workers. These two occupations held the lion's share of violence claims at 174 claims of attack with harmful intent, accounting for 13 % of all violence claims in Oregon, during the study period. (11.) The Department of Labor and Industries, for Washington State, also conducted a State Fund data review on occupational injuries and in a Workplace Violence Report, (issued 1997), found a rise in violence against security guards. For the years 1992 and 1994, the data review revealed 245 violence claims by employee of detective agencies and armored car services as opposed to 220 violence claims made by public police officers. (12.) And newer statistics show no sign of a downturn or ebb in violence against private security professionals.

In 1994, American public police officers and detectives, along with security officers, held a 7 % piece of the demographic pie for the year end tally of occupational homicides. (13.) That same year 76 security guards and supervisors were victims of homicide as compared to 70 police officers and detectives murdered in the line of duty. (14.) From 1995 to 1996, the occupational homicide rate for security guards was 113 dead, and the homicide rate for public police officers and detectives stood at 129 dead. (15.) In 1996, 54 security guards and supervisors were murdered on the job as compared to a workplace homicide rate of 48 for public police officers, detectives, and supervisors. (16.) The Department of Justice conducted a five year study (1992 to 1996) of violence on the job. During that time period, the study found police officers faced the greatest risk of victimization: at 306 out of every 1,000 officers attacked or threatened, private security guards came in second with 218 of every 1,000 guards attacked or threatened. (Taxi drivers, came in third, with 184 of every 1,000 cab drivers victimized by violence.) (17.) It appears the unwelcome lead in occupational violence hasn't remained the exclusive of public law enforcement. Enough security guards were murdered by criminals to make the statistical gap almost non existent between these two parallel professions. By 1996 there were almost 955,000 security guards (officers) employed in the United States, with 59 % employed by contract security agencies. (18.) From 1993 to 1999, the number of workplace homicides committed with a handgun, in the United States, rose to 84 % and private security guards soon outstripped correction officers in the number of attacks and threats of physical violence against their person, 369,300 incidents to 277,100 incidents. (19.) In 1998, occupational homicides for private security guards stood at 52 and the number of homicides for public police officers and detectives stood at 39. (20.) In 1999, 50 security guards fell in the line of duty (homicides), while 36 police officers and detectives became fatalities of criminal violence. (21.)

By 1999, there were 1,088,470 guards employed in the private security sector in stark contrast to shrinking law enforcement ranks, standing at 581,860 police and sheriff officers employed in protective service occupations. (22.) Not all who have entered the protection profession have an idea of just how dangerous their new career has become in the greater part of America. The final total for workplace homicides in the United States, from 1990 to 1999, stood at 508 security guards ( security officers) slain in the line of duty and 495 police officers, and detectives, slain in the line of duty. In just one decade private security guards had surpassed even law enforcement officers in the rate of workplace homicide - an ominous occupational indicator for all those in working in the private security field. In the year 2000, the dangerous trend in violence would continue with another 46 security officers murdered in the line of duty. The same year witnessed an occupational homicide rate for public police officers and detectives of 35 killed by criminal assault or ambush. (23.) Will the murder rate for security guards continue to exceed even that of American law enforcement? And what will be done to slow down the occupational homicide rate for those in the security profession? What steps can security organizations implement to protect their most valuable asset - their security officers? Just as private industry has a responsibility to protect their employees; there exists a duty for security agencies to protect security guards and officers. A risk assessment for the security officers, conducted by a competent security consultant, can be a valuable tool in our industry. Security managers, and professionals, can then reassess the dangers faced by their asset protection staff. Some of the risk factors to be addressed by the security professional, regarding the safety of security officers under his, or her, charge, are the elements of a security assignment which expose workers to death via homicide: like working with volatile individuals, working in isolation, working late evening or early morning hours, working in high crime areas, guarding valuable property or possessions, and working in community based settings. (24.) Of primary importance when conducting a comprehensive security assessment, (targeting workplace violence), is to consider the specific physical risks your security officers are exposed to at their job sites. Should extra CCTV cameras be installed at key officer posts? Should additional warning devices, including duress buttons, be installed for protection employees standing on post? What about hardening a site? Where officers may be exposed to gunfire is the installation of bulletproof glass a feasible plan? Should additional security guards, perhaps armed as response officers, be hired to back up officers isolated at remote sites? Don't be too quick to rule out arming your security force, always making sure they have been properly trained by certified instructors or law enforcement personnel. There has been an over emphasis in the security industry on disarming security officers due to liability concerns. If your security guards are exposed to life threatening dangers in a high crime location then as an employer you have a moral responsibility to give security employees a means to defend themselves! Liability issues arise when security personnel are not properly trained by certified instructors, and not continually sharpened by annual range firing qualifications. It is the untrained security officer who may behave in a reckless manner and who may cause injury to the general public. Perhaps, other alternatives can be investigated for the protection of security guards. Alternatives such as defensive training to subdue physically violent individuals are offered to the private sector by law enforcement agencies.

For guard safety without lethal weapons - what about the use of Kevlar vests? One 1996 study noted that protective (Kevlar) vests saved the lives of over 1800 law enforcement officers since their first use by public police. (25.) Kevlar vests aren't just protection against bullets; these vests are extremely effective against knife attack or even attack with a baseball bat. Remember "Body armor saves lives!" How many security organizations have really pushed their protection officers to invest in such defensive equipment, or how many companies even considered purchasing body armor for ready use, at high crime locations, by their security guards? I believe state training should be federally mandated for all those entering the world of private security. In too many states security officer training isn't required, as security contract organizations lobby to keep the current status quo. Federal mandates for basic contract security training are long overdue. Peace officers receive nearly 500 hours of police academy training. While it can be argued that it isn't economically feasible to require security personnel to acquire this type of professional certification, I don't see a minimum of 40 hours of classroom training time, as a requirement pushed by state legislatures, or the U.S. Congress, to be a task impossible for security contract agencies and other protective services firms to initiate for their security workers. States without minimum training requirements for the private security industry must move quickly to amend the lack of basic training for their security guards. The safety of employees at the workplace should never be sacrificed by the hiring of security officers only as a psychological deterrent or to simply lower corporate insurance premiums. Sadly, the current security environment has been a "dream come true" for violent criminals - after all, what physical risk is there to committing a crime for would be robbers when you're armed and the private protection fellow, or gal, is not! Both American workers and security guards seem to be dying for a living! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2001" (which excluded both police officer and security worker occupational deaths incurred due to the terrorist incidents of September 11th, 2001 - a separate classification), the occupational homicide rate for security workers was 49 killed in the line of duty, as compared to an occupational homicide rate of 39 police officers killed in the line of duty, that same year. (26.) For the last twelve years security officers have been surpassing law enforcement personnel in the number of occupational homicides within their respective fields. What are the steps we, as security managers and professionals, can implement to slow down this high incidence of homicidal violence directed at our protection service workers for over two decades?

Works Cited:
1. "National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2001"
United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Washington D.C. Issued on Sept. 25th, 2002. Pgs. 25-26
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Warchol, Greg. Ph.D (BJS statistician)
"Workplace Violence, 1992-1996"
Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report. Issued July, 1998, NCJ 168634, pg.1
Accessed on March 7th, 2002 at
5. " Homicide in the Workplace" (NIOSH data)
National Traumatic Occupational Surveillance System
Table # 8 and Table # 9
Accessed on March 7th, 2002 at
6. Ibid.
7. "Job Reports 1990"
Exchange Net.Com
Accessed on March 7th, 2002 at
8. " Homicide in the Workplace" (NIOSH data)
National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities Surveillance System
Table # 8 and Table # 9
Accessed on March 7th, 2002 at
9. Ibid.

10. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Department of Labor.
National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1993.
Table A-9, pg. 87
11. "Violence in the Workplace: Oregon 1991-1995."
Research & Analysis Section
Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Services
Occupations Most Frequently Involved In Violent Claims, Oregon 1991-1995,
Table #5, Pg. 4
12. Washington Department of Labor and Industries
WISHA Regional Directive: Subject: Violence In The Workplace.
Issued Jan. 14, 1997.
Reference: Chart on Claim Rate Per 10,000 Workers
Accessed March 13th, 2002 at
13. Ibid.
14. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.
Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Resulting From Transportation Incidents
And Homicides By Occupation, 1994.
Table #4, Pg. 6.
15. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1995.
Fatal Occupational Injuries By Occupation And Event Or Exposure, 1995.
Table # 2, Pg. 7
Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1996.
Fatal Occupational Injuries By Occupation And Event Or Exposure, 1996.
Table # 2, Pg. 8
16. Ibid.
17. "Police Targeted Most In Violence At Workplace" (Associated Press Release)
Wall Street Journal, Monday, July 27, 1998. Sec. B71
18. National Job Outlook for Law Enforcement And Security
Accessed on March 8th, 2002 at
19. Duhart, Denis T. Ph.D. "Violence in the Workplace, 1993-99"
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
National Crime Victimization Survey.
Average Annual Rate of Violent Victimization in the Workplace, Occupation of
The Victim, 1993-99.
Table # 6, Pg. 4
20. Eva E. Jacobs, Ed. and Sohar M. Abu-Aish, Assoc. Ed.
Handbook of U.S. Labor Statistics:
Employment, Earnings, Prices. Productivity, and Other Labor Data.
Fourth Edition, 2000.
Fatal Occupational Injuries by Occupation and Major Event or Exposure, 1998.
Table 8-3.
21. Ann L. Pastore, Ed. and Kathleen Maguire, Ed.
Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics - 1999.
Workplace Homicides, Table 3.151, Pg. 34
The Hindelang Criminal Justice Research Center, Albany, New York. 2000.
22. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Occupational Employment Statistics.
National Occupational Employment And Wage Estimates:
Protective Service Occupations.
Accessed March 9th, 2002 at
23. United States Dept. of Labor.
Fatal Occupational Injuries By Occupation And Major Event Exposure, 2000.
Table # 3, Pg. 2
Accessed March 7th, 2002 at
24. Washington Department of Labor and Industries.
WISHA Regional Directive Subject: Violence In The Workplace.
January 14th, 1997, Pgs. 2-3
25. "Violence In The Workplace: Risk Factors and Preventative Strategies"
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Current Intelligence Bulletin # 57: NIOSH Most Dangerous Occupations.
June, 1996. Pg. 17
26. United States Dept. of Labor
Fatal Occupational Injuries by Occupation and Major Event Exposure, 2001
Table # 3, Pg. 1
Accessed on Jan. 21st, 2003 at